On Deadheading Flowers

It's All Gone to Seed

First, it was the sage. Now, it's the catmint and thyme. June has just begun and already my herbs have flowered and are going to seed. 

This is the year I've promised myself to be proactive, to take care of my plants properly, to pay attention to my garden. I know the catmint will keep its flowers and stalks almost straight through winter, but I don't want it to peak now. And it's not just about me, the catmint has other fans.


The Others

All sorts of bees, flies, and other little bugs flock to the gargantuan (5' x 3') bush. Last month, I saw a black and red hummingbird dive from the telephone wire into our backyard. It landed in the dirt under our newly planted Asian Pear Combo tree. It landed! I've never seen that before.

Then I started seeing the hummingbird much more often. It visited the catmint in our front yard almost obsessively, flying between the purple-flowered stalks. If a human approached the house, off it would flutter to wait on the telephone wire until the coast was clear. Then back to the catmint. 

But now, the catmint flowers are drying up and the hummingbird has returned to the tops of the evergreen trees next door where it makes its home.


The Deadheading Dilemma

So here's the issue: deadhead to give the catmint its second wind and deprive the insects and bird of food or let them insects for a few more weeks and then we all say goodbye to pretty flowers and fragrance for the year. 

You know what? I'm deciding that my dilemma is an overly dramatic false choice. Here's the plan: look around the yard and see what is in bloom, going out of bloom, and coming into bloom. Deadhead in stages to make sure there are flowers at all times for birds and insects to access.


The catmint was loaded with flowers last week, so I cut back my old, leggy sage very hard, right down to the first little leaves poking out of its woody stems. Yesterday, the catmint flowers were drying up and the thyme flowers are mostly gone so I trimmed them, too. I approached those two differently because unlike my foundation bed sage, the catmint and thyme are right up front in the bed next to the sidewalk.

To begin, I carefully shaped the thyme into a mound, leaving some new flowers pushing out from the bottom. Not wanting to remove all the catmint flowers and ruin the appearance of the border, I snipped the back third facing the path to the house, removing the stems down to the first pair of leaves that had little baby leaves with it. For the front, I only clipped one out of every three or four stems to encourage new growth without changing the overall look of the plant from the front. I think it worked.

As new flower stems start to grow and buds on my stonecrops start to open, I'll go in and remove more. The new flush of growth will be what I leave standing through the winter, the border will look pretty awesome with all those dried flowers waving in the breeze until next spring. Here's hoping the hummingbird returns before then.

Photo Credits: Gratisography and Unsplash